Student of history.

I was a history major for half a second in college, in between business and journalism. Like any college student trying to figure it all out, I was drawn to what I enjoyed more than what I could make a career of. Then my dad asked what I was actually planning to do with a history degree, and pragmatism won out. To finish the history program, I would have had to take the seminar class, where I’d write a (90-page?) thesis on some topic of history throughout time. I’m pretty disappointed that I never made it that far, since I do enjoy writing a good, long research paper.

Warped, I know.

I would have specialized in 20th-century American history, and I’m still enamored with that entire era. I especially like social history — who lived at that time, what their daily life was like, what they ate, what they wore, the social norms and etiquette. Of course, social history is interconnected with the political and economic events of the day, so you have to understand those pieces as well. I just can’t get excited about war like my father does.

I’ve thought about going back to school to get a master’s in history (just for fun), but I think two master’s degrees back to back might be overkill. For now I’ll just be a history nerd … reading books, surfing the History Channel, plowing through old family records. The other day I found my great-grandfather’s WWI enlistment papers — neat. I love old stuff.

(I don’t know quite how it happened, but I totally missed History’s “America: The Story of Us” series that aired earlier this year. Right up my alley. Ah well, I’ll catch it someday.)

My love of history probably explains some of my fascination with Mad Men — I enjoy any period piece, but especially one that’s recreated with minute attention to detail. I also have an ever so slight (ha) interest in the Kennedys, and I’ve read nearly every biography there is to read, which all trace the family through the Prohibition bootlegging era, WWII, the 1960s and beyond. I admire them, and I’m captivated by large-family dynamics in general. Probably since that’s the opposite of my own experience. I’ve become pretty well versed on the political and social events of the ’60s, and it’s awesome to see them play out from the perspective of the Mad Men and Women. (Side note: if you’re also interested in the history of the period, check out the blog “Mad Men Unbuttoned“; the AMC site also posts good “1960s Handbook” entries.)

I was greatly anticipating the premiere of Boardwalk Empire on HBO this week for many of the same reasons. I haven’t actually ever been to Atlantic City, but I’m peripherally interested in Prohibition and what made the ’20s so roaring. Plus, gangsters always keep things lively.

I can do without the close-up gunshots, gore and gratuitous nudity that’s inherent on any HBO show (did you know Matthew Weiner, former writer on The Sopranos, pitched Mad Men to HBO and they turned it down? Can you imagine what that would have been like?). But I enjoyed the setup of Boardwalk Empire in episode 1. It’s the dawn of Prohibition, speakeasies are being formed, ward bosses control the city, and notorious gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone are barely out of adolescence. We know what they eventually become, so it’s both odd and interesting to watch how that happened. I didn’t get the significance of the incubator outfit full of preemies though?

There’s been a resurgence of interest in the Prohibition era in the last few years — think about all of the pseudo-speakeasies that popped up in New York, L.A., D.C. I went to one with friends in Old Town Alexandria, Va. — so flashy and cool. They only let about 20 people in at a time, and the bartender took 10 minutes to make one cocktail because he made it with such artfulness and care. It must speak to our need to belong to the inner sanctum — approaching that unmarked door and being ushered inside after passing inspection is a thrill. Likewise, it’s disappointing when the secrets get out and then the places aren’t special anymore, though I suppose the bars couldn’t survive otherwise. After priding myself on frequenting the Back Room in NYC, I discovered that there’s actually a back room to the back room.

Hmph. I guess you can’t win ’em all.

I’ll admit I wasn’t wholly captivated by the first episode of Boardwalk Empire — I’m always suspect about Steve Buscemi since my traumatizing experience with Fargo. But I so enjoy Kelly Macdonald (all hail Gosford Park!), and I had wondered where Michael Pitt had disappeared to. For now I’m intrigued by the societal interpretations and historical recreations, though I hope they flesh those out more.

I’ll hang in a couple more episodes and hope the story also pulls me in.


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